Even though I haven’t written a fiction novel yet, I am not a total stranger to writing. I did, of course, pull in as many points of views from different sources as possible. I spoke to two authors who shared their advice freely and I also consulted the internet. As the writing progresses, I wouldn’t be surprised if my approach adapted and evolved all by itself. So take the following as a status quo description of how my approach with no claims to any kind of general validity. [Note: reading this after only about 3 weeks, and I am amazed how much I’ve already had to unlearn, relearn or simply learn.]
When I sit down to write, I have a rough game plan in mind. I need to know what the scene I am working on needs to accomplish. What is the reader going to take away from it? Where is it taking the plot to? It could be something like fleshing out a character by lending it some depth. Or maybe giving some background to the story. Of course, moving the plot along is also a worthwile raison d’être for a scene. But whatever it is, I need to know why I am about to write the following paragraphs and pages.
[Note: And I need to work up some itch to write. If I’m not itching, I’m happy if I can manage even a page that doesn’t sound stilted. Writing is a craft, and like every craft it needs to be learned and practiced.]
Next, I pretend I am sitting in a movie and watching a film. The film playing is the scene I am going to write. I am the director and I give the actors hints as to how I want the scene to come out. “Show me some more of your emotions”, or “I need the camera to zoom in for a close-up on her face”, or “There’s a prop missing here, where the heck is that ancient coffee machine?” You get the gist.
[Note: I still stand by what I said in the previous paragraph. The old writer’s adage, “Show, don’t tell” is the best advice I’ve picked up. But doing it well is often easier said than done. That’s when you need to cultivate a handful of honest and knowledgeable critics whom you can send chapters to for comment. That’s really some of the best advice I can give at this stage: get networked into a community of like-minded writers and people willing to give you their honest opinion.]
But the really exciting part is that once you have the camera rolling and you’re putting down some words, the whole scene takes on a life of its own. And there isn’t much you can do about it either. If that happens, I try to roll with it and not stay too fixated on my careful initial planning. I try no to be too critical when I write a first draft in order not to lose momentum. I want to push through right to the end of the scene as a primary goal even if I know already that I am going to have to come back later and re-write parts of it. But at least I got the idea out and I have something to revise.
I let it sit for about a day before coming back to it again. Reading and re-reading it over and over in trying to answer two questions: “Is the scene accomplishing what I want it to?” and “Is it making use of the right stylistic elements for its purpose?” A descriptive scene needs to engage all senses of the reader. I am a visual type and tend to forget about touch, smell and hearing. So have to pay specific attention to that. In an action scene, where a lot of stuff is happening, you don’t want your sentences running too long. So I keep the words short and use simple sentences.
[Note: Yeah, on average a edit a section about three times before I am happy. And then at least once more after getting some external feedback. And that’s for the first draft only. Who knows what comes after that.]
I’ll post the prologue in a later post so you can judge for yourself if I have achieved what I was aiming for.
Today’s writing goal is to finish Chapter 1, of which I have about two thirds written. It’s still early Sunday and I have some time set away in the afternoon. Mentally, I am already trying out different versions of where I want to take it. I am curious how it’s going to pan out. The scene I am working on right now is to give the reader a good initial grasp of my main protagonist, Liz Crowning. She’s a grad student at Boston University and has some just encountered the first manifestation of the Pi-Effect. But, of course, nobody knows about it yet…